Shout It Out!

4.2 based on 31 ratings

Updated on Mar 15, 2010


Chemistry, Consumer Science

3rd – 5th grades
Difficulty of Project

Less than $20.00

Safety Issues
Material Availability

Small boxes of laundry detergents can be purchased at some Laundromats.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

One day to complete the investigation and collect data; one day to prepare the science fair display

To determine which laundry detergent is best for cleaning clothes.

  • White cotton T-shirt (new)
  • Scissors
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Ketchup
  • Grape juice
  • Measuring spoons
  • 3 different brands of laundry detergents
  • Washing machine
  • Dryer

Laundry detergents often market claims of amazing cleaning abilities. Laundry detergents contain surfactants that remove soil. Detergents are available in powder and liquid forms. Liquids work best on oily soils and for pretreating soils and stains. Powders are especialy effective in lifting out clay and ground-in dirt.

In this experiment, three different brands of laundry detergents are put to the test.


detergent: product used for laundering clothes

surfactant: ingredient in laundry detergents which removes soil

builder: ingredient in laundry detergents that helps the surfactants remove soil by inactivating water hardness minerals


Detergents contain surfactants and builders that work together to clean soil out of clothing.

Research Questions
  • What ingredients are in laundry detergents?
  • Is there a difference between the ingredients of different brands of laundry detergents?
  • Do powder and liquid detergents clean differently?
  • Do different brands of laundry detergents clean differently?

  1. Gather the necessary materials.
  2. Cut the new white T-shirt into twelve 2 x 4-inch strips.
  3. Stain four T-shirt strips with 1 teaspoon of ketchup, four T-shirt strips with 1 teaspoon of chocolate syrup, and for T-shirt strips with 1 teaspoon of grape juice. Allow the stains to set overnight.
  4. Set aside one of each of the three stained strips to use for comparison. This set of strips will be the control group and will not be washed.
  5. Machine wash in hot water one of each of the three stains in ¼ cup of one of the detergents. Dry the strips.
  6. Compare the washed stains to the control stains. Rate the stain removable ability of the detergent with the numbers 1 – 5. Record the results.

1 = stain unchanged

2 = stain slightly lighter

3 = stain lighter

4 = stain significantly lighter (almost gone)

5 = stain completely removed

  1. Repeat Steps 4 – 5 with the other detergents.


“Facts About Laundry” at

“Laundry Detergent Ingredients: Surfactants” by Mary Marlowe Leverette at


Nancy Rogers Bosse has been involved in education for over forty years â first as a student, then as a teacher, and currently as a curriculum developer. For the last fifteen years she has combined a career in freelance curriculum development with parenthood â another important facet of education and probably the most challenging. Nancy lives in Henderson, Nevada with husband and their three teenagers.

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